Meal Prep Monday: Casseroles Are LIFE!

Hey my fellow crafty chefs. It’s been a while since I’ve shared some of my creative endeavors in the kitchen. Why? Well, things have been super busy with the new teaching job and cooking took a back seat.

Plus, the husband shared with me that making all of the food over the weekend and eating it throughout the week wasn’t desirable because he felt like he was eating just leftovers again and again. I could see his point so we made some adjustments and made most of the protein items on Sunday and then cooked sides through the week.

Nothing like a fresh batch of veggies or rice each night to complement some chicken or steak!

But even that change still proved to be too tough to keep up with. The demands of my new job and our already hectic life kept getting in the way. Between grades and soccer and long working hours for the Mr., I was in need of a meal prep schedule that I could keep up.

Enter the casserole! Sorta…

I call it a casserole because I tend to put it together in a large casserole dish but in all honesty it’s more like a tossed together full meal that we reheat throughout the week. It includes a meat, veggies, and a carb like pasta or rice at the base. I’ve had some successful meals come from this new plan of attack that I’ll share below.

Butternut Squash and Spinach Ravioli Casserole

Ok this one literally was an off-the-cuff last minute idea. I had guys over watching football and a kiddo playing Minecraft so I was stuck at home trying to come up with something to feed the troops.

In the freezer I had some butternut squash cubed and ready to cook so I roasted it with garlic, oil, cayenne, oregano and sea salt. While I did that, I layered cheese ravioli into a casserole dish along with some washed spinach. When the butternut squash was fully cooked, I blended it until it was soup like and then I spread that between layers of ravioli and spinach. My thinking was to make it like a lasagna but instead of the long, flat noodles, I’d use the ravioli for layers.

I covered the top with cheese and baked it until the ravioli was cooked completely. As a finishing touch I broiled the top so that the cheese was nice and melted. And we were super impressed! I thought the guys would hate it but in the end they both ate it and enjoyed it! We added a little simple basil marinara sauce on top or to dip it into and that added bonus flavor.

Italian Sausage and Beer Pasta Unbake

My husband confided in me that he didn’t like baked pasta. Particularly the crusty bit around the edge (oh my favorite!). So, taking the idea of a pasta bake, I boiled noodles, browned sausage and beef together with garlic and seasonings, and mixed a bag of roasted peppers into a marinara sauce with the intention of tossing it altogether in a casserole dish but leaving off the last step of baking it together.

That way we still get the goodness of a full meal without the crispy bits around the edges. And when we heat it up throughout the week, we melt a little cheese on top to keep it fresh and new.

My other go-to is my Turkey Chili. I can vary certain ingredients (like marinara for salsa) to include whatever I have on hand. I’ve got a list of a few things I need to always have on hand to make one of these all-in-one meals. Things I replace when I run out, not things I buy weekly. The meat I buy weekly and that’s about it. Otherwise I have a decent stash of these items in my cabinets and freezer.Canned tomatoes

pasta sauce
salsa
frozen mixed veggies
pasta (a variety)
frozen ravioli/tortellini
frozen meatballs (Trader Joe’s are awesome)

With these things always  at home, I know I just need to grab the beef, chicken, or turkey to add. We also shop for the pasta and the frozen veggies on days when it’s a 10/$10 sale. It saves us a little money and time to grab a bunch and store them.

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Meal Prep Monday: Easy Peasy Salmon

Lately, my cooking has been a bit stagnant. I’m not trying many new things and sticking only to items I know my family will eat so that we aren’t wasting food. We’ve recently overhauled our finances so I’m watching my pennies and trying to save in as many ways as I can, too.

Recently, salmon was on sale at our local store so I decided to switch up our nightly chicken or turkey dinner for a quick and easy salmon dish using a simple Italian seasoning mixture to add some flavor. Now this easy peasy recipe can work in a number of ways (on veggies, potatoes, other meats) so I always keep handy a few packets of this Italian dressing mix.

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It’s meant to be a packet of seasonings for a dressing but I’ve found it works great directly sprinkled onto whatever you are cooking. I sprinkle about half the packet onto my five fillets and cook with butter in my cast iron skillet. I save the second half for whatever veggie or side item I’ll cook with it.

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Once the salmon has been seared on each side for about 3-4 minutes to let the flavor get in there, I add in my veggies, like green beans here, and sprinkled the rest of the packet onto them. I make sure there is enough oil or butter so that the salmon doesn’t stick to the pan and to give a little moisture to the whole thing.

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Together, I let them sit and simmer on low until the green beans are just cooked enough but not soggy. I like them with a little crunch!

I serve this over rice and it makes a great meal for dinner and as leftovers for lunches. And it’s a nice change up from the plan ol’ chicken dinners we tend to eat.

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Meal Prep Monday: A Change of Plans

For some time now I’ve been planning and prepping the meals for my family on Sunday nights. Every Sunday I’d shop and bring home large quantities of food to be prepared before the week officially began. This way I could have multiple meals done in one evening and all it would require is a little reheating.

The thought behind this was that I was a) saving time, b) saving money, and c) keeping my family fed with healthy homemade meals but not killing myself each night cooking a new meal.

That was the thought…

Then I was informed by the men of the house that they didn’t really enjoy the whole “leftover” thing. What?

Well, that threw a wrench in my plans! So much so that I haven’t really cooked any meals at home lately because I haven’t found my rhythm yet. Thinking ahead of individual meals AND shopping in lower quantities rather than mass producing meals one day a week so I didn’t have to think too much about it throughout the week just isn’t sinking in.

So I have some retooling to do in the kitchen. I need to find a way to cook a meal every other night that will keep dinner healthy and fresh. I’ve tried freezer meals where I packaged up multiple crock pot meals in one sitting to be spread out and used over the week. I could attempt that again though I do find the crock pot meals to be a bit bland. I always have to add extra seasonings when they are finished.

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And the prep time was extensive. I had to block a good 4-5 hours to clean, chop, measure, cook the meat, then dole the right ingredients into the right bags. Although it took some time and it did need extra seasonings, this came through when I was out of the country and my husband needed dinner or when we had lots of plans after work and school.

Now I’ve never done the traditional meal-a-night type cooking where I planned out my shopping based on what I needed to cook a meal every night. But the thought of it makes me feel overwhelmed. It feels like a lot of lists, a lot of planning spread out over a longer period of time and a lot of rushing to use ingredients before they go bad. Yikes…

In the end, I’m not sure what I’m doing but I’ll definitely need to figure something out sooner rather than later!!

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Meal Prep Monday: Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

When the seasons start to change and a chill is in the air, is there anything better than some homemade chicken noodle soup?

NOPE! It’s honestly the best remedy for a chilly day or a fall cold.

Now every one and their mother probably has a chicken noodle soup recipe but I’m sharing my tips and tricks to making a hearty soup that’s good for the soul.

First I start with boiling whole chicken breasts. These are skinned and boneless and I use about 3-4 lbs of chicken. If it’s too much, then I just chop the left over chicken and add to my salads or lunches for the week. Nothing goes to waste!

I boil the chicken in water with some sea salt but no other seasonings. I wait to season after they are mostly cooked through. Once they are tender and juicy, I pull them out to chop them up into cubes and season. Then I let them cool off on the cutting board while I work on the rest.

I use these No Yolk noodles for my soup. In the water that the chicken was boiling in, I cook the noodles until they are just done. Since I will allow the seasonings, veggies, and other ingredients to simmer awhile together, I try not to overcook the noodles or the chicken so if they end up a little undone that’s fine. They will finish cooking when I add everything together and let it simmer.

While the chicken is cooling and the noodles are boiling, I sprinkle this Poultry Seasoning over the chicken it give it some great flavor.

As the noodles cook and the chicken is cooling with the seasoning sprinkled on it, I chop up some carrots and celery. I usually do 4-5 stalks of celery and match the amount of carrots to the celery for balance. I can always use the left overs for snacks.

Once the noodles are mostly cooked, I strain them in the sink ad dump the water. Using the same pot, I drop in some chopped onions and garlic with a little oil to get a good sizzle going. Then I add in the carrots and celery to the mix to cook a little together with a little of that poultry seasoning.

Once the veggies are cooked but not too tender, I throw in the chopped chicken and noodles then pour over it some chicken broth. The broth I eyeball and add until all the ingredients are covered. I do go low sodium when I can. If I don’t grab the low sodium broth I am careful not to over salt.

With everything thrown together, I allow it to sit and simmer for a good long time. Making such a big batch allows us to eat soup for a few days. And rarely does this soup go uneaten. My son loves it, my husband loves it, and I love it too!

The chunky chicken and the soft noodles with the slightly crunchy veggies are wonderful on a cool fall day. And if someone in your house is feeling a little under the weather, it’s a great meal to have on hand.

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Meal Prep Monday: Crock Pot Salsa Chicken

Years ago when I was in college, my cooking skills were very simple. I could make eggs and that was about it! But I started trying to make simple meals for me and a roommate or two to improve.

One of the first dishes I made was from a recipe my mom passed onto me. It’s simple: a jar of salsa (level of spiciness is up to you), two tablespoons of spicy mustard and a tablespoon of brown sugar. Mix this together and then bake some chicken breasts in this sauce until tender and juicy.

To this day, I still use this recipe to make a batch of shredded chicken for the week. It’s a nice spicy and sweet mixture that is great over rice or on a salad. The only change I’ve made is to throw it in the crock pot and let it cook throughout the day.

For the crock pot I throw in 5 froze chicken breasts with the ingredients listed above.

I cooked this batch on HIGH for 4 hours and let it sit on WARM for an hour, but on a longer day you can go low for 6-8 hours. After it cooks I shred it up with a fork and then let it sit until we are ready to serve.

It cooks so well and is so juicy that shredding the chicken is ridiculously easy. It literally falls off my fork as I pull it apart.

I will make this small disclaimer, this is not a hit in my house but mostly because the guys found out what is in it. Neither of them like mustard OR salsa so when they discovered what the ingredients were they instantly disliked this chicken… Ugh! It’s so good, so spicy and sweet! I don’t know WHAT they are thinking!?!

If you are looking for a sweet and spicy way to make a batch of chicken for your weekly meal prep, check this super simple recipe out and enjoy!

Meal Prep Monday: Cilantro Lime Chicken

Every once in a while, I make a meal and realize “DANG IT! I should have been documenting this for the blog! It’s great!”

This happened last week when I threw together some left over cilantro and chicken with a squeeze of lime over all of it. What came out was a delicious chicken with a citrusy kick.

Being the blogger that I am, I decided to make it again and this time get some pictures so I could share my experiment with you all!

With this in mind, I picked up some fresh cilantro, a ripe lime, and some chicken tenders. I like cooking with tenders because it feels like they go further. Instead of cutting into a larger chicken breast, we can scoop out a few tenders to add to a salad or to put over rice.

When I made this last week, I cooked it in my favorite avocado oil but this week I pulled out my favorite butter instead. I find this Plugra butter cooks chicken like a dream. The chicken browns smoothly and ends up juicy and flavorful.

While the butter heats in the pan, I seasoned my chicken tenders in some Garlic Lovers seasoning from Flavor Gods. I toss them around in a generous coating and drop them into the pan when the butter is good and melted.

 

Cooking the chicken tenders on medium in the butter, I chop up the cilantro and slice the lim in half. I don’t cook the chicken in the cilantro for very long. I fact, I leave the cilantro and lime for the very end after both sides of the chicken have browned.

It takes maybe 5-6 minutes on each side in the Plugra to get the right brown coloring and the chicken is about 95% cooked through. THEN I throw on the cilantro. Right towards the end.

As the cilantro starts to wilt a little I squeeze the lime over the chicken and then turn the chicken over one last time.

In the end I’m left with tender, juicy, flavorful chicken cooked perfectly and ready for our lunches for the week!

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Meal Prep Monday: Butternut Squash and Bacon 

Bacon makes everything better, no?

Well we’d like to think so. At least when it comes to cooking and jazzing up some veggies.  While bacon may not always be a healthy option (but in moderation it’s yummy) it’s great to cook with and can add some unexpected flavors.

We’ve recently fell in love with Hormel’s Black Label bacon. The applewood, cherrywood, and pecan wood bacons are all divine with a strong flavor. I like to use these thick cuts because they add texture and flavor to whatever I’m cooking them with.

Whether it’s scrambled eggs on the weekend or with green beans, I’ve definitely become a fan of throwing in some bacon to mix things up. The added taste and cooking in the grease of the bacon really bumps up the best parts of the meal.

I recently experimented with bacon and butternut squash. With Fall around the corner, butternut squash is becoming quite popular and very available. I grabbed some last week during our attempted Whole 30 but when I went to cook it, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Should I add some cinnamon and have a sweet side dish? Should I bake it in butter and seasonings for something savory?

When I looked into the fridge I realized I had an open package of bacon waiting to be used. Some had gone into breakfast but the leftovers were awaiting their time in the frying pan. So I chopped up the slices and threw it into the pan with the raw butternut squash. I added a little bit of butter and coriander seasonings but left out any salt due to what it would take from the bacon.
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Soon my house was filled with a wonderful scent. The smoky flavor of the bacon carried through the air and I was instantly drooling. I cooked everything on medium heat until I could tell the bacon was starting to crisp up, then I knocked it down to low and let it all simmer and work together.

In the end, the butternut squash is tender and browned while the bacon is crispy with a slight crunch. SO GOOD! And the flavors together work so well. While we add a little naughtiness with the bacon, having butternut squash in your diet is a great thing. It give you loads of vitamin A and a decent amount of vitamin C, to name only a handful of the virtues of butternut squash.

My husband likes this side dish and I love it. My son, on the other hand, is not so fond of the texture of the squash. Too mushy for him. This is also the kid that loves french fries but HATES mashed potatoes. And I love that by cooking it with the bacon, I hardly need to season anything.

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Meal Prep Monday: Almond Chicken Tenders

We recently did a week off from breads, sugars, and dairy. We wanted to see how we would do without certain foods that tend to trigger issues relating to our health. It was meant to be a full 30 days but we lasted only 7. After awhile the restrictions made us grumpy.

During that time I had to get creative with our meals. Just plain ol’ chicken got old real fast. Knowing I couldn’t bread the chicken I had to make substitutions like almond meal for breading or panko crust. Except I didn’t have any almond meal. I did have almonds, though.

With my handy little processor I ground up a few cups of almonds to create a nice fine crumble that I added some seasonings to.

Just a healthy sprinkling of my garlic lovers seasoning to give it some flavor. I left off any salt or pepper so we could season it as we each needed.

I rolled my chicken tenders into the almond meal mixture and through it into the frying pan with some butter. I let each tender brown and cut into each to check that they were each cooked through.

I have to say, this dish came out beautifully. The little one didn’t appreciate the nutty flavor that the almond meal added to the chicken and my husband found it interesting. I, on the other hand, loved it.

I made up a side of veggies and added some butternut squash cooked with bacon to mix it up. I’ll have to post that recipe also because it is DEVINE!

 

Meal Prep Monday: Garlic Chipotle Chicken Tenders

Lately I’ve been in a cooking funk. Cooking the same things over and over. I’ve haven’t been thinking outside the box.

Seeing as we’ve been slogging through my cooking funk, we’ve fallen back on some unhealthy habits. I haven’t been cooking as much as I usually do so we buy dinner out or throw together sandwiches.

This slip up has caused my husband and I talk seriously about cleaning up our diets and cutting out the processed things and sugar. We’ve been reading up on different meal plans like paleo cooking and taking a few notes from the Whole30.

Starting September 1st, we’re starting a cleaner, whole foods approach to eating. Which means I need to kick it up a notch and start cooking again! More meal planning and prep on the weekends to include all our good veggies and fruits and proteins to keep us on track.

To add to our already lacking refrigerator, I made up some simple, tasty garlic and chipotle chicken tenders with vegetables.

I love my avocado oil and I hope to visit the downtown market before the end of its season so I can get another bottle. I recently discovered pre-minced garlic. Where have you been ALL MY LIFE? I mean I love fresh stuff but if I can have it already cut for me, yes please!

We keep a few packs of frozen veggies although I also buy fresh when I can. I like the crunch of the water chestnuts in this pack. It’s a nice change from the peas and carrots.

I like cooking with tenders because they are smaller and can be used in a number of ways. They can be eaten on their own, on a salad, in a rice bowl, or even shredded in a burrito.  You can do the same with a chicken breast but I find having the smaller sized cuts makes it more time efficient when portioning the chicken out.

While the oil and the garlic cook over medium heat, I coat the chicken in some Flavor God chipotle seasonings. Because they are low in sodium, I don’t feel that you can over flavor them so I’m pretty liberal with the seasonings.

I decided to mix it up the seasonings with the veggies and add in some Garlic Lover.

In the end, I mashed some potatoes with thyme, parmesan cheese, and butter to balance out dinner that night and we loved it. The chipotle seasoning really added a smokey kick that went well with both the veggies and the mashed potatoes.

By just mixing up the seasonings, this chicken was a change up from other chicken I’ve made. You can eat healthy and stick to what you know but having a options for seasonings really helps to change it up so things don’t get boring. Playing in the kitchen is one of my favorite things while sharing what I discover is my second favorite thing!

Thanks for popping by today. Don’t forget to check out our most recent podcast, episode #12!

Meal Prep Monday: Lemon and Garlic Marinated Chicken 

It’s been a while since I had something new to post from my kitchen. I’ve been sticking to the same things and haven’t really changed it up much. You could say I’m in a bit of a rut.

This weekend we had company over so I searched Pinterest for recipes that I could make to feed my guests. I figured anything I made could turn into food for the week, that is if anything was left over.  I started out with this recipe for a Lemon and Garlic grilled chicken. It sounded really tasty. But I noticed the pin I shared with this recipe said that they used Italian seasonings instead. So I did a quick check of my spice cabinet and realized I had something different although, my Italian salad dressing mix. These packets come in handy fairly often so I keep a few on hand. Before I had even started cooking, I was already making adjustments to the recipe.
I ended up tweaking the recipe to my own liking. First I let the breasts marinate for over 24 hours. And every once in a while I’d go into the refrigerator and flip the bags around, moving the chicken inside the bags and giving them a good toss.

Also I didn’t flatten the chicken and I made two baggies with three breasts in each. Pounding out each breast sounds like a great way to relieve tension but I didn’t have the tools nor the time to do so.  I think separating them into two bags and letting the sit over night worked out perfectly.I decided, after the whole thing, that I would use less oil. I’m a fan of olive oil but sometimes it can be too strong. In this case it was a bit too much and I would rather taste all the other ingredients rather than the oil. Just a note for the next time I make this.

Even the little guy got into the mixing action. Once the chicken made it into the baggies, we gave them a good shake, rattle, and roll. I may not have flatten them out with a mallet but I did massage those seasonings into them through the bags.

CHICKEN!

Now for the recipe I ended up using. I doubled this recipe and divided it into two baggies.

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (3 breasts per baggie)
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large garlic cloves, minced
1 packet of Italian salad seasonings mix
salt and pepper to taste
1-1/2 teaspoons lemon zest, from one lemon

In the end these chicken breasts came out moist, juicy, and super flavorful. That lemon zest really comes out in the flavors.

We had more than chicken on the grill so we had a lot left over to eat the rest of the week. I’m curious how this recipe would turn out in the oven so I mat attempt it again this time with thinner chicken tender pieces.

 

Ahhhh, the smell of the grill! We made chicken, sausages, and some carne asada. Carne is a must at every barbecue. Even though I cooked and prepped for a get together, in the end  we have enough food already made that I turned out to be a meal prep for the week!

And we all had a great time. Lots of laughs, great food,a nd great people all together just because.